Children in Japan’s Colonies

Between 1895 and 1945, Japan ruled an increasingly extensive empire. The major colonial possessions to 1931 were Taiwan (from 1895), South Sakhalin (from 1905) and Korea (from 1910). These parts of the empire were known as ‘outer lands’ (gaichi), while Japan proper (the 47 prefectures in existence today) was known as the ‘inner lands’ (naichi). In addition, Japan acquired leasehold rights over the Liaotung Peninsula in China from 1905, and ruled a wide expanse of South Pacific islands under a League of Nations Mandate from 1919 until their occupation by the United States during World War Two. Japan’s takeover of northeast China in 1931 resulted in the puppet state of Manchukuo becoming effectively, though not officially, part of the Japanese Empire. Similarly, the Japanese Empire established other tightly controlled governments in China from 1937, including Wang Jingwei’s ‘Republic of China’ based in the former Nationalist Chinese capital of Nanjing.

The vast majority of the children in Japan’s colonies were not Japanese. This research project does not focus on the experiences of these children, important though they are. However, it must be noted that there were separate education systems for expatriate Japanese children in the colonies, on the one hand, and for the vast majority of colonial children of other ethnicities, on the other. The system of elementary, secondary, and higher education found in Japan proper was extended to Japan’s colonies, culminating in ‘Imperial Universities’ in Taihoku (Taipei) and Keijō (Seoul). However, this system was mainly for the benefit of children of Japanese families living in the colonies, even though a small number of children from well-off Taiwanese and Korean families also attended the schools. Many colonial subject children did not go to public schools at all, certainly in the earlier decades of Japanese rule. If they did, they usually attended a separate, much more limited system of public education comprised of elementary and higher elementary schools (called ‘ordinary schools’ [futsū gakkō] or ‘public schools’ [kōgakkō]).

A small number of the interviewees for this research project spent time in Japan’s colonies during their childhood or youth, or had close relatives who did so. Two female interviewees were born in Taipei as the children of a Japanese bureaucrat in the central colonial government, and attended elementary school and girls’ high school in Taipei, before having to return to Japan after the end of the war. Another female interviewee went to live in Taipei with her older sister after graduating from higher elementary school in Toyama prefecture in the early 1930s, married, and stayed there until 1945. All three remarked on how pleasant a life they enjoyed in Taipei. One male interviewee went to work in the Japanese civil service in Korea after graduating from agricultural school, influenced by the fact that his uncle was in the Japanese police in Korea. Two more interviewees went to Manchuria, one man as a youth in the Pioneer Youth Corps (see the web page on ‘Children, Education, and War, 1931-1945), and one women to help with housework for her aunt, whose husband was working in the electricity industry there. Though a small number, it helps to illustrate the significance of the empire for some Japanese children and young people at this period.

Peter Cave and Aaron William Moore

How to Cite This Source

Peter Cave and Aaron William Moore, ‘Children in Japan’s Colonies’, in Childhood, Education and Youth in Modern Japan [add URL and access date].